Zardari’s Statement—A Master Stroke or Supreme Folly?

Spearhead Analysis – 02.09.2015

zardari-nawazThe initial reaction to the Rangers operation in Karachi was a thunderous speech by the PPP Co-Chairperson threatening the ‘establishment’ with dire consequences. While his party quaked in their shoes there was hardly any response from the ‘establishment’ or the government. The operation in Karachi not only continued but picked up steam with raids, arrests and investigations. The operation also began to indicate a clear strategic direction with its objective being to destroy the nexus between corruption and terrorism and bring about much needed internal stability.

Now with the arrest of a close associate of the former President and the ongoing investigation there is another statement from the PPP Co-Chairperson and former President from his current sojourn in London. This time he has endorsed the ‘establishments’ drive against terror but has targeted and threatened the ruling party with dire consequences if it continued to target the PPP and ignored the corrupt in its own ranks and those exposed in scams. While there was no response from the establishment because none was warranted, the government has responded with mixed statements by some ministers and a directive from the Prime Minister to two trusted ministers to sort out the ‘grievances’ of the PPP. A mild reaction to say the least that has sparked speculations of what is called ‘muk-mukaa’—you scratch my back and I will scratch yours. There may be more to it than that.

The perception that the government has been steadily ceding space to the ‘establishment ‘on security and foreign policy matters has been gaining ground ever since the military launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb against insurgents in the west after the massacre of school children by the TTP in Peshawar, and then went on to expand the Rangers operation in Karachi. This perception is also fuelled by the optics of the top ‘establishment’ figures meeting visiting foreign ministers as well as undertaking visits abroad that include parleys with the political leaders. The Apex Committees at the provincial level that ensure civil-military interaction are also functional to ensure implementation of the National Action Plan. The military has across the board national approval for its efforts to rescue and stabilize the country to give it the inner strength that is vital for survival and progress. Zarb-e-Azb and the Rangers operation in Sindh and elsewhere are part of the overall strategy and therefore interlinked. There is also no doubt that the civil and military have to work together and that this does not translate into military dominance.

Perception is one thing but the hard reality is that there is an elected government in power and everything that is going on has or should have its approval and ownership. There should not be any ambiguity in this. This is the reality on which the PPP Co- Chairman’s reaction is based and this is the reality that he is pointing out to the government through his statement. Evidently the government has understood the full implications of the PPP reaction and is responding politically to salvage the situation and if possible keep the PPP on board and not arrayed against it as threatened by the PPP Co-Chairperson. There are serious questions on PPP ability to muster street power in the prevailing environment and there are rumors of a possible split in PPP ranks over the party’s future strategy.

Much will depend on the assessment by the government and the understanding that the political institution can reach with the ‘establishment’ over ongoing and future events. It is being reported that the PM and COAS have discussed and agreed on the expansion of the ongoing operation into Punjab. The overriding consideration has to be the expectations of the people and Pakistan’s interest especially in view of India’s hostility and the economic opportunities that are opening up for Pakistan—the latest news being that the UK is funding a project that is part of the CPEC. The military’s successful operations are giving people hope and they have brought about a positive change in the internal situation.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual).